Obesity is definitely a problem in America, but the strength of movements against obesity may have detrimental effects on the health of our nation as a whole, and we must be careful about how we go about solving these issues.
The general opinion of child obesity is that it is horrible and needs to be stopped. It is sometimes referred to as an “epidemic”. There is much research and advocacy about the harmful effects of obesity. Those that are worried about child obesity, however, already take measures to limit their children’s food consumption and increase physical activity, and applying additional force to the movement may have detrimental effects on prevalence of eating disorders. This paper investigates research conducted on the relationship between dramatic measures taken to reduce childhood obesity and the prevalence of eating disorders.
Anti-obesity advocates are discussing the problems with obesity and throwing out solutions varying from altering school lunches, increasing physical activity, and limiting child-targeted marketing campaigns, and the movements are very widely known, even among children (Bellatti). Some are even targeted at children.
What is wrong with the way the movements are now done?
The problem is not in the way the movements are conducted. Many of the studies have a strong scientific background. The problem is actually with the quantity and “noise” of the movements (Bellatti). Just as children see food advertisements targeted at them, they also see anti-obesity “advertisements” targeted toward them (Grinberg). This can result in negative side effects where both parents (and the children themselves) deprive children of necessary nutrients. The nutrients are important for growth, and some studies even suggest that children need extra fats for growth. In extreme cases, this deprivation of nutrients and/or relaying anti-obesity propaganda to children can increase the risk of childhood eating disorders (Gavin). All children are targeted, healthy and obese, and they are all given the same message: cut fats and exercise (Grinberg). Only the overweight children need this advice, and giving it to everybody could lead to unexpected results.
Is it the way movements are conducted that is the problem, or the audience's perception?
The studies are done using good science and methods, but the audience's perception and reaction to the movements are extremely detrimental. Parents can see all the movements and overreact to them by severely limiting their children's food consumption. Healthy children can see the advertisements, lower their caloric intake, and then justify their behavior by citing the prevalence of obesity in America (Haines).
If the studies are done with good intentions, how do they result in eating disorders?
The noise of all of the obesity movements is eerily similar to societal pressures on children to become skinnier. In addition to the pressure provided by the various movements, careless parents can lecture their children about how they can't eat certain foods because they will “get fat” if they do (Bellatti). This lecturing could result in two different possibilities: the children rebelling against their parents for lack of freedom (eating unhealthily despite their parent's lectures), or they could take their parent's words to heart and eat less and perhaps feel hopeless about meeting their parents' expectations.
How does the continual bombardment of anti-obesity material add to the harmful effects?
Both parents and children receive the message from the movements, and both have a different reaction. If either reaction is an overblown one, the results could be harmful to the children's health.
How is obesity linked with eating disorders? Is there a connection? (Oxford Journals)
There are hypothesized associations between obesity and eating disorders, both resulting from excess dieting. The link between obesity and dieting, and the link between eating disorders and dieting are given below (Haines).
Dieting linked to obesity:
|Image From Haines|
Dieting linked to eating disorders:
|Image From Haines|
What are the possible impacts of anti-obesity movements on individuals in America?
Depending on the person, the strong anti-obesity attitude in the United States may actually be counterproductive even in decreasing obesity. The obese children feel the tremendous pressure society puts on them, and they may see how difficult it is to lose their weight and give up altogether. As if that is not enough, the message is also internalized by healthy children who are already concerned about their weight.
What if we increased the strength and amount of anti-obesity movements?
This is definitely the wrong thing to do. Increasing anti-obesity movements' strength will put additional fear into parents and cause them to overreact. Overreacting parents will cause children to overreact. The effects on children may also be disastrous. Obese children feel hopeless and lose self-esteem, whereas healthy children put more effort into losing weight, increasing risk factors for development of an eating disorder (Grinberg)
How does the media fit into the mix?
The media provides unrealistic expectations for how men and women are expected to look. Inexperienced children believe that what they see on TV and in magazines is real. As they start entering adolescence, they compare themselves with those images and try to achieve the same look. Especially in the past decade, America has been a media-driven country. The media does portray unrealistic images of the “perfect body”, and children do see it and it does have an adverse effect on them and their view of themselves and their body. In fact, a 16-month decrease in magazine reading was investigated and it was found to be associated with a decrease in symptoms for eating disorders in adolescent females (Haines).
|Image From Haines|
When the media provides unrealistic cookie cutters for children to fit into, they are often deterred by parents who know the truth about the false appearances of media stars. Then comes the anti-obesity movement preaching a reduction of food consumption and increased physical activities. Children can use the movements to justify their attempts (to both themselves and their parents) to become as skinny and “beautiful” as the people they see on television (Haines).
How can we solve the media issue?
The media is a tough thing to deal with. Their only concern is selling to make a profit, and rightly so. They know that displaying unrealistic attractive models sells, so many companies choose that strategy. Instead of trying to change the media, it would be more feasible to change the children's perception of the media. Ensuring adolescent children know that the media portrays unrealistic (and even impossible) body images would be a much smarter course of action (Haines).
Obesity movements seem so horrible! Do we even need anti-obesity movements?
Yes, we absolutely need something to counteract the rising obesity rates in America, but we are taking the wrong approach. The movements should be careful about what they support. If parents get confused about the message content, they might think that their child mimicking a TV model is a good thing.
What can be done about it?
Instead of the various noisy and exaggerated movements, movements should be conducted on a more personal level. Parents should be trained to teach their children a healthy lifestyle and the importance of leading by example. Private correspondence between the doctor, child, and parent is also important. We just have to be careful about who we are giving these messages to, and make sure everybody knows how to make the children healthy without causing already-healthy children to change their lifestyle.
How can anti-obesity organizations play a part?
Anti-obesity organizations can target people with more personal attachments to children rather than the children themselves. The goal of the anti-obesity organizations should be to get the message to children that need to hear it, and the best way to do that is to target those who best know the child's situation. An overweight child should be given messages that support weight loss such as increased physical activity, decreased sedentary activities, and a balanced and nutritious diet. An underweight child should be given messages that support a better and more fulfilling diet and should be watched for development of eating disorders.
Who should the anti-obesity organizations target, specifically?
Doctors would be a very valuable target because they know about both sides of the spectrum and can promote either side depending on the particular child. Educating parents about risk factors for both obesity and eating disorders is also a beneficial solution. The target must be specifically aimed at adults though, and not misguided towards children themselves who might become self-conscious or overreact.
Haines, Jess and Dianne Neumark-Sztainer. “Prevention of obesity and eating disorders: a consideration of shared risk factors.” Oxford Journals. Oxford University Press. 17 July 2006. Web. 23 March 2013.
Bellatti, Andy. “How The Obesity Focus Hurts the Health Movement.” HuffPost Healthy Living. TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc. 20 September 2012. Web. 7 April 2013.
Grinberg, Emanuelia. “Georgia's child obesity ads aim to create movement out of controversy.” CNN Health. Cable News Network. 7 February 2012. Web. 7 April 2013.
Gavin, Mary L. “Fats and Your Child.” KidsHealth. The Nemours Foundation. February 2012. Web. 23 March 2013.